Food. Friends. All things fabulous. Weight. Womanhood. And why the secret to living a balanced life, may, perhaps, paradoxically, lie in learning to cook.
Monday, 14 November 2011
Do It Write Now
I'm trying to write a column and I'm struggling a bit. This is nothing new. I have a love/hate relationship with writing. Even the late great Dorothy Parker had this problem, 'I hate writing, I love having written.' is what she said. She also once said that 'A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.' I completely agree with her on both counts.
So as any procrastinator worth his or her salt knows, when you have a print deadline, it's so much easier to blog/do the dishes/tidy your cupboards or surf the internet than to focus on what you are supposed to do. I originally wrote this piece sometime in July for a website called Plate to Page - It's all about writing. So once I've posted this, made a cup of tea and snuggled with the dog I'll work on that column.
But in the meantime take a look at Plate to Page. I first heard about it via the lovely Jeanne of Cook Sister! fame who is one of the clever people behind the workshops and I know that my friend Ishay who puts the fabulous into www.foodandthefabulous.com attended one of the workshops and loved it. For those of us who can't make these incredible workshops in Europe and the UK, we can still gain inspiration from their website. Having visited you'll either feel like writing, cooking, photographing. As for me, sadly, I only feel like eating...
I was the last in my class to get a reading book. I was according to the teacher, ‘too slow to read’. She made me nervous with her flashcards and angry eyes. And so written words were frightening. A few years later another teacher opened up the book cupboard in her classroom for me, telling me that if I read, I would never be alone.
And so I think that’s why we read. To escape. But also to know that we are not alone. To recognize an emotion as described by someone else, and realize that they too were, sad, frightened, happy, hungry, turned on…
And I think that’s why I write, to tell people about the time that I was sad, frightened, happy, hungry, turned on. Writing reaches people.
I am not a novelist. I have the greatest admiration for their creativity and determination, but I doubt that I have a novel in me. I write what I know. What I feel. But writing is hard. Especially if you have self-doubt. Because you will never feel that your words are good enough. It took me a long time to eventually become a journalist, I waited until I was almost 30 before attempted to write. I was too afraid to start, I case I should fail. I still feel that way later, 12 years on. Every time I begin writing, I hope that I’ll be good enough, that I won’t fail. My husband, Jacques, responding to my many bouts of writer’s block thinks I’m ‘beautifully complex’, my mentor, Joan, practically encourages ‘completion not perfection’. I trust both of them. And myself eventually. I believe in The Muse. She waits inside of you, until the anxiety stills, and then breathing softly, she reminds you to write with your own voice. Because that’s how you should write, with your own voice. Write the way you speak. To do any differently would be akin to having a conversation in another, faux, accent. Impressive perhaps. Amusing maybe. But not authentic. And what this world needs is authenticity. It needs authenticity much more than it needs good grammar.
I fell into food writing by chance. I’ve always though of myself as an editor, first and foremost, as that’s what I’ve been for most of the past 12 years. I’ve worked with some great South African writers, which means that I’m always extra critical of myself, because I know and recognize good writing and because I wanted to see my words in print for so long, that to be careless with them would be disrespectful to myself and to those who read what I write. When I left full-time employ to travel the world five years ago with my seafaring husband, Sumien Brink, editor of one of the foremost South African food magazines, Taste, gave me the most glorious of all gifts, she asked me to write a column about my travels and food. And so Confessions of a Hungry Woman became my way of writing about our adventures abroad, the people we met and the food we ate. It also became a tribute to those I love, because food is intrinsically linked with those we love. Once I started, it seemed natural to write about food. I’ve never professed to be a great cook, in fact, if I had to define myself, it would be to say I’m a comfortable cook. But I do love food and the happy-sad-mystery of life and, somehow, for me the two have always been intertwined.
And eventually the monthly column also morphed into a blog by the same name. It’s a diary I visit occasionally. I really should do so more often. We all should because blogging reaches people, it is personal and immediate and something that appeals to all voyeurs. And who amongst us are not voyeurs? I like looking into people’s houses when I walk past, like to imagine their lives inside. With blogging you don’t need to imagine. Blogging also works on the Karma principal. Act like an arsehole, and you’ll attract arseholes. But if you write and publish with good intent you
will experience the beautiful kindness of strangers. Here endeth the lesson….
The Hungry Woman’s Literary Hot List
In Gael Greene’s Insatiable – Tales from a Life of Excess, she writes about what happened to her after a sexual encounter with Elvis Presley.
‘As I picked up my purse, wondering if a good-bye kiss would be appropriate, Elvis opened his eyes, blinked, as if he wasn’t sure for a moment what I was doing there. He twitched a shoulder toward the phone. “Would you mind calling room service and ordering me a fried egg sandwich?” The fried egg sandwich – that part I remember. I can’t remember how big it was, how long the sex lasted, or even who was on top (probably me). But I have never forgotten the fried egg sandwich.’
AA Gill writing about eating a pomegranates for the first time when he was a young boy in boarding school in Table Talk.
‘The flavor of pomegranate is ineffably sad. It’s the taste of mourning, of grief mixed with happy memory. I couldn’t have picked a better metaphor for how I felt about being away from home, about the girl who kissed me, about my life and body changing from boy to young man. I’d like to say that I understood all this, that I realized that the fruit was a symbolic catharsis, an allegory, but I didn’t. I did, however, learn that nice things given when you’re unhappy can make you sadder, and that the flavor of sweetness counterpoints bitter-salt sourness.’
Isabel Allende’s opening sentence in Aphrodite – the love of food & the food of love – is one my favourite sentences of all time.
‘I repent of my diets, the delicious dishes rejected out of vanity, as much as I lament the opportunities for making love that I let go by because of pressing tasks or puritanical virtue.’
Nigel Slater in Toast – the story of a boy’s hunger – writes heartbreaking stuff.
‘My mother is buttering bread for England. The vigour with which she slathers soft yellow fat on to thinly sliced white pap is as near as she gets to the pleasure that is cooking for someone you love.’
Ruth Reichl throws down the gauntlet in Garlic and Sapphires – the secret life of a critic in disguise – with the following:
“ ‘You gonna eat that?’
The woman is eyeing the tray the flight attendant has just set before me. I can’t tell if she wants reassurance that I find it as repellent as she does or if she is simply hungry and hopeful that I will hand my food over. I loosen my seatbelt, swivel in my narrow seat, and see that her face holds a challenge. Is she daring me to eat the food?”
Anthony Bourdain being surprisingly gentle in Medium Raw – a bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook - writes about the pains raisins of a small Parisianboulangerie
‘The baguettes are ready – piping-hot from the brick oven, fabulously, deliberately ugly and uneven in shape, slashed crudely across the top. They’re too hot to eat but you grab one anyway, tearing it open gingerly, then dropping two fingers full of butter inside. It instantly melts into liquid – running into the grooves and inner spaces of white interior. You grab it like a sandwich and bite, teeth making a cracking sound as you crunch through the crust. The reaction is violent. It hurts. Butter floods your head and you think for a second you’re going to black out.’
I have made peace with the fact that I am a hungry woman. Hungry for experiences, for love and yes, for food. I'm ok with that. But there's always room for improvement. It's weird saying you like yourself but hate your body. Aren't they one in the same? Perhaps the answer does NOT lie in dieting. Perhaps at age 40-something, I should begin to honour my body ( in whatever shape it is) and make peace with food. See food as my friend. A delicious, delectable friend. And not some two-faced frenemy whom I profess to love, but secretly fear. And I also need to be kind to myself. We could all do with being kinder to ourselves. And if that means chocolate cake, massages and therapy, then so be it.